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Kenn do attitude

One of two people listed on the historic advert that introduced football to Ireland, Mr RM Kennedy is an often overlooked character in the history of Cliftonville FC.

Named alongside fellow founding father John McCredy McAlery in the newspaper notification that heralded the establishment of Ireland’s first Football Club back on September 20, 1879, very little was previously known about the man who lived at 6 Brookvale Terrace.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Heritage Development Officer Paul Treanor, however, the story of Mr McAlery’s accomplice can once again be relayed to coincide with this 140th anniversary of the Reds’ first ever Irish Cup success – a 5-0 victory over Ulster on a day that saw a certain Robert M Kennedy listed as umpire for the occasion!

His home on Brookvale Terrace was sited around the current Pim Street/ Churchill Street area of the lower Antrim Road and it is understood that he resided there until 1880, but where he lived after that is, like so many other questions – his age, place of birth, family and details of death – still something of a mystery.

What is known, though, is that while he has largely been a background figure in the Club’s history, Kennedy was clearly close to McAlery from the start and more heavily involved in Cliftonville’s development than has been appreciated.

Both men were associated with Cliftonville Cricket Club, where Robert acted as Secretary for a time and also assumed similiar positions within Enfield Rugby Club and the Irish Amateur Athletics Association.

In the Football Club’s inaugural season, Kennedy played as a wing forward but, for the following campaign, he took over as goalkeeper and kept a clean sheet in the Reds’ inaugural competitive fixture – a 2-0 victory over Oldpark on February 5, 1881.

Alongside McAlery, he collected a runners-up medal in the first ever Irish Cup Final but, while his close friend continued to play on, it appears that 1-0 defeat by Moyola Park on April 9 was Robert’s last outing as a player.

Robert M Kennedy (third from left on back row) was listed as the umpire for Cliftonville’s Irish Cup Final victory over Ulster in 1883

Exactly what he did next remains unclear, however contemporary newspaper accounts of Cliftonville FC’s Annual General Meetings note Kennedy’s continued involvement with the Club he helped found for at least the next 10 years.

In September 1883, for example, he chaired the AGM and acted as Assistant Secretary to McAlery. The following year, he was listed as a Committee Member and the same applied in 1886.

On September 5, 1889, meanwhile, Kennedy was elected Vice President alongside McAlery at an AGM where attentions were focused on the new Club grounds of Solitude, which provides further evidence of just how deeply involved the pair were in shaping the Club we know and love today.

The latest record recovered to date lists him as a Committee Member for the 1890/91 season but thereafter his connections with the Club are unknown, however considering what we now know about the man, it is evident that Robert M Kennedy’s contribution to Cliftonville Football Club should certainly be underestimated no longer.